Ushers at the Broward Center Performing Arts Center handed out button-pins that said "Welcome Back to the Rock". Unlike me, who had seen the show three times before, the button held meaning, for the unitiated, they had to wait for the big opening number of "Come From Away" to enlighten them.
What is this Welcome to the Rock message? While it was clearly a welcome back to the Broward Center and a hooray for Broadway in Fort Lauderdale's return after the COVID-19 shutdown, for those familiar with the musical "Come From Away," the message's meaning is as much of a big hug as the show.
Yes, "Come From Away" is like a big hug. And for the hearty musical to be the big bang return to Broward's Broadway touring shows' series, it couldn't be more perfect.
So, the brass tacks are this: The storyline is based on a story from the 9/11 catastrophe not often heard of. Immediately after planes flew into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11, 38 planes, just a handful that were cleared from skies immediately around the world, were diverted to Newfoundland, Canada, and, specifically to the remote town of Gander, where the population was about 9,000. There were almost as many people on the nearly 40 planes.
And that "Welcome to the Rock" pin? The musical's foot-stomping rouser is from the Newfoundland nickname, known as "the rock" since it is an island situated way out in the North Atlantic.
The friendly little town had to think fast – turn gymnasiums into places for their new arrivals to sleep, and the townsfolk of Gander had to get used to visitors from Africa to Egypt and Dallas to L.A. And the visitors? The actors never waver as they portray the passengers who consistenly have that "Where the heck did we end up" dumbstruck look.
Twelve performers scramble to switch characters as they portray dozens of characters from Gander locals to plane passengers. The airplane only represented by chairs.
Husband-and-wife team Irene Sankoff and David Hein wrote the show — book, music and lyrics — based on interviews with those who were part of Gander convergence.
The show doesn't have one star and its leaning on the ensemble to tell the story makes for "Come from Away" to have the close-knit comradery feel that rolls off the stage and makes its way into the audience.
Hialeah native Nick Duckart is in the national tour and has the role that takes much of the brunt of the prejudice that quickly happened after 9/11. Along with playing half of a gay couple, the other dual role is that of Ali, a Muslim chef, who quickly turns into a parahia after it is learned that it was Middle Eastern men who were responsible for the attack on the World Trade Center.
One man shouts at Ali as he is using the telephone, others don't want to board the plane back home with them.
But the overarching theme is the kindness of strangers. It is a message that's especially needed in a world that has become even less tolerant than the days after 9/11.
"Come From Away" runs through Sunday, Nov. 14 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale, as part of the Broadway Across America-Fort Lauderdale.
Tickets at www.browardcenter.org or call (954) 462-0222. The show runs without an intermission. Prices start at $30.50.
"Come From Away" is then in West Palm Beach from Nov. 16 through 21 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Boulevard, West Palm Beach. Visit www.kravis.org or call (561) 832-7469. Tickets begin at $33.
COVID PROTOCOLS IN PLACE at theaters.